Season 2 arrives on May 9, 2023!
June 7, 2022

Why You Need to Cut Your First 50 Pages w/ Allison K. Williams

Why You Need to Cut Your First 50 Pages w/ Allison K. Williams

If you’ve spent time in the world of creative nonfiction, chances are you’ve come across today’s guest, Allison K. Williams (read more below).

If you’ve spent time in the world of creative nonfiction, chances are you’ve come across today’s guest, Allison K. Williams.

As the “Unkind Editor,” she builds on a decade of experience with hundreds of clients to dole out straight talk on writing and publishing.

And as’s social media editor and cofounder of “The Writer’s Bridge,” she uses her expertise to help writers build their author platform.

In today’s episode we talk about how Allison’s background as a street performer shapes the way she looks at writing.

And we explore her new book, Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. It’s based around a breakthrough she had at a writer’s conference, when she realized writers could tackle every stage of writing and publishing if they thought of their work as a series of successive drafts.

In addition to working as a freelance editor, Allison is also a popular conference speaker and writing coach. As an author and storyteller, her work has appeared in the New York Times, on NPR, and on CBC-Canada. She lives in Dubai with her husband.



Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book (includes free sample)

The Unkind Editor

Rebirth Your Book retreats

The Writers' Bridge

HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers

Brevity Magazine (flash nonfiction and craft essays)




This episode was edited by Paul Zakrzewski and produced by Magpie Audio Productions. Theme music  is "The Stone Mansion" by BlueDot Productions.



[opening music]

[open soundbite with Allison]: ...platform is your genuine engagement with the people who need your book, whether that's because they need an escapist read on a wet Saturday afternoon, or they need your experience in life to guide them through their experience in life.

Host Intro Paul: Welcome to The Book I Had To Write. This is the podcast where I talk to authors about their most compelling stories and why these journeys matter to anyone who wants to publish. I'm Paul Zakrzewski, I'm a writer and a book coach.

If you've spent time in the world of creative non-fiction, chances are you've come across today's guest Allison K. Williams. As the social media editor for "Brevity Magazine," Alison doles out straight talk for authors who wanna build their platform.

Under the moniker, the Unkind editor, Alison dispenses tough love on the world of editing and publishing. It's all based on her experience working with hundreds of writers over the past decade. In her new book, Seven Drafts, Allison distills everything she's learned with the aim to help writers help themselves.

If the book has an overarching theme, it probably goes something like this, "There's a disconnect between what you think you've got down on the page and what's really there. But don't worry. It happens to the best of us. There are many, many tricks to get your writing where you want it. So buckle in or suck it up and get to work."

Except Allison says this with way more humor than I do. In addition to working as a freelance editor, Allison is also a popular conference speaker and writing coach. Her work has appeared in "The New York Times" on "NPR" and on "CBC," Canada. When Allison's not speaking or running events here in the U.S., she lives and works in Dubai.

Welcome, Allison.

Allison: Thank you, Paul. I am super happy to be here on your podcast.

Paul: It's great to have you here. So you call yourself the Unkind Editor. Why unkind?

Allison: So when I first started selling my editing services for money, prior to that, I had edited for my friends, but I needed to advertise my services so that I could start editing for strangers who would pay me.

And when I looked in the back of a "Writerly Magazine," there were classified ads and they were all for kind editor, nurturing editor, gentle editor, but all the writers I knew were, like, "Just tell me what's wrong so I can fix it." And so, I'm not mean, but I'm direct, because it's not my job to say, "Oh, you wrote that real nice." It's my job to help you write it better.

Paul: Absolutely.

Allison: And from that, I come from a background of circus training where criticism is respect. You know who the best student in the room is because they're the one getting the harshest and pickiest criticism because the coach believes they can help you be great. And that's what I wanna do with writers. I want to give them direct, specific, picky criticism that will help them be great.

Paul: So what are some of the most common problems or technical issues that writers come to you with?

Allison: So I see whole-book issues and I see sentence-level issues. And I would say the biggest whole-book issues are, number one, they started 50 pages too late. By which I mean, the memoir has 50 pages of backstory and family history, and you gotta know this about me, and it's, like, "No, no, actually we don't. We can just dive right in there with your wacky family."

In fantasy and science fiction, and in young adult, it's very often world-building that's happening in that first 50 pages, and the writer needed to write it. They needed to get it out there on the page so that they could use it as a resource, but then go ahead and chop that 50 pages off and start around page 50. The other thing I see on the whole-book level is the character isn't getting into enough trouble.

So if we're talking about fiction, the writer is still being kind to their character instead of letting them really screw up. And in memoir, people are not always honest about their own bad behavior. And let me tell you, the more you level with the reader about just how rotten a person you were, the more they will trust you when you show them the behavior of the people who harmed you. You gotta out yourself first.

Paul: So you have this beautiful new book out, "Seven Drafts."

Allison: Thank you. Yes, I'm very happy with it.

Paul: It looks amazing.

Allison: Thank you.

Paul: So when I've thought about revising or drafts, I definitely, you know, I know that I have to do several, but I don't think I've ever thought about tackling a specific issue in a specific draft. How did you come up with this concept and why Seven Drafts?

Allison: I came up with the concept of Seven Drafts when I was teaching a writing workshop in Bombay, India. And we were doing a live stream. Periscope was a thing back then. This was quite some time ago. And somebody asked me right near the end of the live stream, they're, like, "Well, you know, you say you have to do more drafts."

Because, I mean, the real curse of being an editor is the people who send you their first draft and say, "All it needs is a quick proofread," because people's brains fill in what's not on the page, and especially beginning writers, they genuinely can't tell the difference between their first draft and a finished book on the page, because their brain is filling in so much. And so, I found that, you know, people need to do more drafts than they think. And I said that and somebody said, "Well, how many drafts do you need to do? How many drafts should it be?"

And I said, "Well, you know, you wanna make sure that you just get it on the page. That's your first draft, I call it your vomit draft. Your second draft is your story draft. Does the story make sense? Does it all hang together? Your third draft is your character draft. Does everybody have a motivation? Are they all rounded people?

 Then your technical draft where you dive in and fix things at the sentence level, then a nice copy edit where you clean it up for your friends, you get your friends to read it. And then you get either a professional or a writer who is better than you to read it."

And, yes, realistically people do more than one draft of many of these stages. but if I called it 17 Drafts, nobody would buy the book and they'd all be discouraged. So I think it's a way to look at different elements of the book without getting overwhelmed. You know, you don't have to fix all the dialogue in draft two because you're still fixing the story.

And maybe there's that beautiful scene you wrote near the end that you're gonna have to cut it out, and it's gonna go in a sequel, or it's gonna go in special bonus material for your newsletter subscribers. But you don't have to fix the dialogue in it in draft two because it turns out it doesn't belong, after all.

You know, and it just gets overwhelming. Writing a book is a huge job. And while, yes, there are some fantastically skilled genre writers who crank out a book a month, because their business is writing genre fiction as fast and as well as they can to make an income stream.

If you are writing, and I hesitate to say a more thoughtful book, because I don't wanna say that genre fiction is not thoughtful, but if you are an early-career writer and you are diving into writing for the first time, and your goal is not, "Let me make an immediate income stream," your goal is let me become as great a writer as I can to tell this story that is important to me, it's gonna take so much more time than people think. It takes so much more time than people think.

Paul: For one thing, it's a way to kind of contain some of the anxieties writers carry around.

Allison: Oh, yeah, and that's something, too, where, you know, in my circus background, I trained in the same gym as people who were much better than me. I trained in gyms where circus people were training. And I watched incredibly high-skilled performers.

People who had won Olympic gold medals and were now working for Cirque du Soleil, and I watched them fall on their butt or fall on their face over and over again until they got the trick. And as writers, we don't get to watch our heroes fail, because writing happens so privately. You know, even in an art class, the students sketch, and then they walk around and look at each other's easels.

In music, yes, you rehearse alone. But then you go into a room with other players and you hear their mistakes. And I think writing is the art form where we are most deprived of watching our colleagues fail and watching our heroes fail. You know, you can look at Picasso's stuff and some of it's better than other stuff.

And yet, I don't get to see Virginia Woolf's crappy first draft. And so, it's kind of like saying, you know, "Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus, I promise. Yes, there really is a crappy first draft, except we never see it, so it's hard to believe that it's there."

[music break]

Paul: So that's a great segue to ask you to kind of go through these Seven Drafts quickly. To me, the first three, I kind of combined them, the vomit draft, the story draft, the character draft, because I think of them as kind of fundamentally getting the piece down, and then re-envisioning it in the real sense of the word. Just walk us through those three stages.

Allison: So I call it the vomit draft because better out than in, just get it out, get it on the page. Don't second-guess yourself, just get through the manuscript as best you can. If you get stuck on a plot, just send in the aliens, you can take them out on the second draft, you know. Wheel that day, use Ex Machina into your plot, and solve that ending.

And then your second draft, you want to actually look at the story. I say, you wanna try and make your in a world sentence, which is like the guy who makes the movie trailer voice go, "In a world, one protagonist must accomplish a task with high stakes against a serious obstacle." You know, and if you can phrase it like that, and if you stand up and you say it loud, and it sounds cheesy but good, then, yeah, you're doing it right.

It helps you create the skeleton of the whole story. And then that third time around, the character draft, I come from a playwriting background as well. My MFA is actually in playwriting. And the joy of playwriting is that if you have made a mistake, an actor will stop in the middle of rehearsal, and they will look at you and they will say, "I don't understand why is my character in this scene? What do I want here?"

And if only we, as novelists, could have our characters look at us and go, "Excuse me, I have no motivation in this scene. Why am I here?" And so, for me, those are three things that absolutely must be considered. And yet, my dirty little secret is I don't write like that at all. I find this stage of Seven Drafts to be really helpful for my clients and really helpful for many writers.

I write scene by scene, and I go back, and I edit the day's work from the day before, before I launch into today's work. And so, when I finally get to the end of a "first draft," it's actually closer to a third or fourth draft. I also don't write in order. So even with a novel, but also with a memoir, I write the beginning, I write the ending.

I fill in a couple of scenes here and there in the middle, and then I outline and figure out what's missing. And so, that's something, too, you don't have to go through all of these drafts exactly in order as they go. It's enough to be aware of the elements, and maybe you're in your fifth or sixth draft and you're ready to send it to some beta readers, but the ending is still not working.

And so, that's a great time to go, "You know what? Let me map this out against a traditional, dramatic structure, and we'll see where am I different and why am I different in those places?" You know, you don't have to have that rising and falling action at exactly the place that Oedipus would put it.

But it's useful to look and go, "Okay, normally the action is rising when we turn in the middle of the book. I have my turning point in the first 25% of the book. Why is it there? What is it doing to help my story?" Because pushing back against what's prescribed can be every bit as valuable as following what's prescribed.

Paul: As long as you're aware of what you're doing.

Allison: Exactly. Ignorance makes terrible books. Defying the rules on purpose because you know them and you're making a different choice, makes beautiful books.

Paul: So then after those three stages, we have the technical draft, the personal copy edit. And I think of those as being kind of more traditional editing, you know, the copy editing proofing. Is that kind of the idea?

Allison: So the technical edit, I would call line editing, and the technical edit is where you unify the voice. If you've got a book with a lot of dialogue, you might read through one character at a time and make sure everything they say sounds like them. A major issue that I often see with early-career writers is what I call special writer voice.

And so, an example of that is, this character was a party-loving 19-year-old high school dropout driving across country. And he says in the early draft that I read, "I drive straight through. There is no time for activities of the leisurely variety. Even if there were, I would not be interested. How could I, after what had happened?"

And it's, like, "You know, dude, don't use the conditional were. That's just not a thing for this character." But very often, writers feel like they have to elevate their words on the page to sound like writing. Like, "Look, I understand large words. I have an extensive vocabulary, therefore I am allowed to be a writer." When, in fact, it's the natural voice of the writer, you know, like you'd tell a friend, but a little bit better that really makes your writing sing on the page.

And so, in the technical draft, I urge people to take a look at, do you sound like yourself on the page? Does your narrator sound like themself? And then also, some little picky things that are surprisingly helpful, like do your sentences begin and end with strong verbs and nouns as much as possible and not pronouns or prepositions, which are a little bit weaker?

And that's something that I love social media for because if you're tweeting and you're tweeting with intention, you are practicing writing great sentences.

Paul: And then, the last two drafts are where you're getting feedback. So there's the friend read, the editor read. I actually wanna ask you about the friend read. What kind of advice do you give people in terms of how to go out and ask friends to read? That feels tricky.

Allison: It does. And I would say that as you start writing your book, start doing favors for other writers. Start reading for other writers six to eight months before you're gonna need them to read for you because you wanna make those deposits in the bank of goodwill so that you have a nice fat account when the time comes to make withdrawals.

I think it's very useful to have an early beta read, maybe before you've even cleaned up the text, but where you've got the story down, you've got the characters down, and you wanna get two beta readers, one who loves you and will cheer everything you do and will tell you everything that is great and positive and wonderful.

And one from a person who also believes that criticism is respect, and who will go, "Well, I had a question here, didn't understand this. Don't like this character." You know, you need a cheerleader and you need a picky person as well. And then I would say in the later stages, when your book is really starting to be, like, "Okay, I think I'm close to finished."

That's when you wanna send it to the best writers you can. And if you don't have people that you wanna do favors for, or maybe you don't feel like doing favors, maybe you don't have the time to read somebody else's book for seven or eight hours with your careful eyes and write them up careful feedback. You can hire a professional beta reader.

There are editors who might call it a manuscript evaluation. I offer a beta reading service where other people read the book and write up a report. And I collate all that feedback and go, "Okay, here's the trends I'm noticing. Here's the feedback. Let's talk about how you're gonna address these issues," which is way less expensive than a full developmental edit, and very often catches problems that need to be solved before a full developmental edit is worth your money.

I mean, I think a lot of people have noticed that professional editing is expensive. You know, we're bringing a lot of expertise to the page. It's high-level work. It requires a lot of knowledge, especially if you're gonna be good at it. So don't waste your money on a full professional edit if you haven't had a serious beta read, whether that's from a picky friend or a paid beta reader. You know, save yourself the time, save yourself the money on the problems you can fix yourself.


[Allison reading] Why is it hard to edit your own work? Because you already know what you want to say. The story, the characters, the voices, the personal truth of what happened, whether that's real or fictitious, you were there. Your brain naturally fills in gaps between the story you want to tell, and what's actually on the page.

You have turns of phrase, regionalism, slang, cultural knowledge about the world you're building or the one you lived in. The reader does not have that background. They need a careful mix of handholding, prodding education, mystery, and maddening deception. You must make the reader a detective who turns every page thinking, "I must find out what happened," giving just enough information to sustain that desire without satisfying them prematurely, so to speak.

[music fades]

Paul: By the way, I can't help but notice a Canadian accent about...

Allison: I am. I am a dual citizen with the U.S. and Canada because I was born in Florida to two Canadian citizens.

Paul: You were?

Allison: Yeah.

Paul: Did you grow up at all in Canada?

Allison: We spent the school year in Florida and the summers in Canada. And so the more time I spend in Canada, the more Canadian I sound, the more time I spend in America, the more American I sound.

Paul: So, as you've alluded to in this interview, you have this super interesting background. One of the things I read about you is that you have worked as a fire-eater.

Allison: I have indeed.

Paul: And what's the trick to eating fire safely?

Allison: There is no trick. You open your mouth, you put the fire in your mouth, you close your mouth around the fire, and it goes out from lack of oxygen usually before it burns you. The trick is not eating fire. The trick is taking a 3-second stunt and turning it into a 15-minute routine with comedy and audience participation.

Paul: That's amazing.

Allison: Yeah. And here's what I love about fire-eating, you can wave a torch and the audience will come sit down to see what it is you're going to do. Because I spent a lot of time as a street performer. And so, I firmly believe in art as entertainment and art as a consumer medium, the audience tells you what they're bored with.

Either they put your book back on the shelf or they skim through pages, or they flip to the end of their Kindle, or they're engaged and they slow down and they start doing every page. And with fire-eating, the trick is an excuse for the audience to spend time with the performer, because in the long run, what you're really selling is not "Look at me do this three-second trick."

What you're really selling is, "Watch me be brave. Watch me be strong. Watch me be powerful, and be inspired, and think that you can do those things as well." And that's also what we need to do on the page. You know, if your memoir is, "I survived addiction," addiction is the excuse for the audience to spend time with you, to go on your journey, to watch you learn to be brave, and powerful, and strong.

Or if you're writing fiction, your narrator, the, you know, what's the gimmick, what's the hook of the book that makes the audience want to spend time in your world and grow and learn and change with you?

Paul: And you have been doing editing forever. I mean, I was reading in your book that you saw yourself as an editor as a kid. How did you transition from what you were doing into professional editing?

Allison: So LiveJournal made me an editor. For those of you listening who don't know it, LiveJournal is an old-school social media site. It is now bad to be on LiveJournal because it is owned by Russians. But when LiveJournal was a thing, I had a journal on LiveJournal, and then as LiveJournal was starting to not be a thing, like, it was out of fashion by the time I got there.

And I took part in a writing contest that was run by a friend of mine, a high school friend of mine, who I hadn't heard from in a long time. And he's, like, "Hey, do you wanna participate in this writing contest?" And every week there was a prompt and every week you could write anything you wanted in response to the prompt. You could write a journal entry, or a poem, or a song, or an essay, or a short story, anything you wanted.

And every week people voted and the low people on the vote-getting, you know, "went home" like reality television. We started with 368 writers, and I decided I want to do this competition, and I'd like to win it. And so, every single week, I responded to, at first, 368 pieces, although, you know, the numbers went down as we went.

And I discovered that what I needed to do was I needed to be able to respond by identifying what was great about their work, what was really working, what was really fun to read, and also giving them a piece of genuinely useful feedback that made them still like me and want to vote for me at the end of the week.

And so, it is a lot easier to spot the mistakes in somebody else's work than in your own. It is also easier to spot the mistakes in beginning writer's work than in seriously accomplished writer's work. And so over 10 months, I don't think I would've joined the contest If I had known it was gonna last for 10 months, and near the end, we were writing...I think we wrote 14 pieces in 10 days.

And it really got me used to, "Okay, I can't be precious about this. I just have to crank it out. And it has to be as good as I can make it in the time I have available to me." You know, I was still performing at the time. So I remember a day where I was sitting in the coffee shop that had a view of the street corner where my show was gonna be next, and I'm typing and looking up and going, "Okay, they're not at their hot pass [SP] yet. I think I can finish this story."

And just that constant practice of daily editing of 300 pieces a week for several months made me realize, "Oh, we all have the same problems. We all need to learn the same things about our writing." And it got me used to giving feedback to other people in a way that made them want to work harder and made them want to do more.

Paul: So then at some point in your journey, you developed this book, Seven Drafts. How did that come about? Was it something that you had been working on for a long time? Did it come about quickly?

Allison: So it was a very fast ending with a very long, slow beginning because I had said to somebody in Bombay at the writer's club meeting, you know, "Hey, I think it takes 'Seven Drafts' and these are what they are." That led me to write a blog for Brevity, which is a literary magazine website that I blog for quite often, and went, "Okay, these are the 'Seven Drafts' and this is what you do in each one of them."

And then, to be perfectly honest, I wrote the book because I needed something to sell at conferences when I was speaking. And I traditionally published the book because I was at a stage where my resume needed a traditionally published book in order to advance further than I had currently advanced. You know, you gotta be strategic about these things. I use Scrivener, love Scrivener as a place to organize work and, you know, see what you have.

And I copied every blog I had ever written for Brevity that had any relevance at all to developing your final book. I copied extensive Facebook comments I had made. I copied stuff I had written on LiveJournal. I copied stuff that I, typically, send out in an editorial letter, because a lot of people need to hear the same things, and I threw it all in Scrivener.

And this is, you know, the culmination of, I would say, nine years of work, of slowly generating this material, 1,000 words at a time, and so I took it all then, and I checked myself into a hotel and I wrote 40,000 words in 5 days. And then I waited a couple of weeks, and then I checked myself into a hotel again, and I wrote another 40,000 words in 5 days. And that was the book. But I had slowly accumulated all of this material over many years and then put it all together.

Paul: That's incredible.

Allison: Thank you.

Paul: What did you...

Allison: I'm a binge writer.

Paul: You're a binge writer.

Allison: I'm a binge writer. I work on the theatrical model, like, know, I will never be a writer who writes every day, and there are writers who write every day. It's like going to the gym, you know, "Here I am, writing every day, writing every day." I hate that. I can't do it.

I mean, you know, can't means won't and won't means pushups as we say, but I'm a binge writer. I want to sit down for the weekend and do as many words as I can in one go. And it's that theatrical model. You know, we think about something for a really long time and then it's...there's six weeks for it to be done and the curtain is up, whether you're done or not.

Paul: What surprised you? And did anything surprise you about writing this book?

Allison: Oh, so my own competence surprised me. Because one of the early reviews on Goodreads...and I owe a debt of gratitude to this reader...she said, "You know, in the first chapter the writer just talks a lot about her credentials." And I'm, like, "Oh, yeah, if they've purchased the book, they've already decided I'm qualified to tell them what to do. I don't have to yammer on about my own credentials at the beginning."

And I realized that I still have that sense of, "Oh, I'd better prove I'm worthy to be here. I better really establish that I'm worthy to be here." And that was a really nice lesson for me. So thank you Goodreads reviewer. You were amazing.

Paul: So you published Seven Drafts. What's it been like for you to have this book out in the world? I mean, you started talking about that a moment ago in terms of your platform, right?

Allison: Yeah. It's so lovely to have the book out there. I've been working with Woodhall Press who are the publishers, and who are just lovely, amazing human beings. I'm so glad I went with a small press because they really are able to support their authors one-on-one in a way that I might not be getting this much attention at a larger press.

They were also able to move faster. So there are a couple of other writer books that came out in, like, February, March of this year. And I kind of stole the march on them. You know, my book came out [last] September. I've really discovered that I need to keep telling people I wrote a book because, you know, we always worry about, you know, oh, we don't wanna advertise too much.

We don't wanna wear out our welcome. We don't wanna keep telling our friends, "Hey, buy my book, buy my book." But I had a client the other day who was, like, "Oh, I didn't realize you'd written a book until I saw it in your email signature." And a friend of mine, Stephanie Weaver, who wrote a wonderful book called The Migraine Cookbook.

She had been promoting her previous migraine-related book for, I think, three years and was, like, "My friends must be sick to death of hearing about it by now." And then she met someone at a writing conference who was like a friend she hadn't seen in a while. And the friend's, like, "Oh, you wrote a book?"

And so we have to remember when we're promoting that most people only see about 10% of what we put out into the world. I have loved having that credential that, you know, there is something about having what you say in a book that makes it feel real. And the other thing I really love is that I have a hard time sometimes charging what I'm worth in terms of, you know, doing developmental editing.

I'm a lot less expensive than a lot of other people. And I could probably raise the price. So it feels good to have the $17-option, where if you really wanna know what I have to say, and you don't have a ton of money, you can get the book out from the library and get it for free. And I really like that.

Paul: Were there any unexpected results that happened with the publication of the book?

Allison: The most unexpected thing that happened was when that first pallet of books arrived at the HippoCamp Creative Nonfiction Conference, where we had a preview of the book. You know, it wasn't officially out for another month, but we printed a special edition for HippoCamp.

And there's a video online of me opening up the box and just bursting into tears. And it really surprised me how affected I was by having published this book and how lovely that felt. You know, I like to be a cold, hard cynic, but it really, it really touched me.

Paul: In this interview, we focused a lot on your work as an editor. But you are someone who wears many hats. In addition to the editing, you're also an expert on author platform. In fact, with your friend, Ashleigh Renard, you created something called The Writers’ Bridge, which helps authors develop their social media platform. Can you tell me more about The Writers’ Bridge?

Allison: Totally. So I wrote a blog for Brevity called "Forget Platform-Build a Bridge" because a platform is something you stand up on and yell at people from. And a bridge is a two-way street where you talk to your readers and your readers talk back to you. And especially for nonfiction writers, listening to your readers can really help you understand what needs to be in your book.

You really can understand, "Hey, they're wrestling with this question. They're having a hard time with this problem." You can make sure that you address that in the material that you're creating. So Ashleigh and I just kind of spontaneously during, you know, pandemic lockdown time said, "Well, why don't we do a Zoom meeting?" And then we started doing it every other week. And we're coming up on, you know, episode 48.

So we've been doing it for two years now. And we've grown from, you know, the 30 or 40 people who came to the first one, to we, typically, have between 100 and 200 people turn up. We have a mailing list of 2,500. We have a paid membership program called the Express Lane where people get a simple doable platform-building tip in their email box every Monday and Friday.

And what I love is that in The Writers' Bridge, we're able to give out so much advice for free, and really share it with the community and give back. And I've loved what I've had to look up in order to be able to speak as an expert. But I think the biggest thing for authors to think about in terms of platform is your platform is not a dirty, little sideline that you have to do or you're never gonna sell a book.

Your platform is your reason for being, because that is how you engage with your readers, the people who desperately need your book. If you are writing a book that is perfect for grieving mom, grieving mom does not have time to come find you. Grieving mom needs to already know that you exist. And then be delighted that you have written a book that speaks to her.

And I think people tend to assume that platform equals social media and social media equals clicks. And none of those things are true. Platform is your genuine engagement with the people who need your book, whether that's because they need an escapist read on a wet Saturday afternoon, or they need your experience in life to guide them through their experience in life.

And so, I love platform. I love using platform to be a better writer. I write many essays on Instagram. I try to form great sentences on Twitter. I try to be helpful and supportive to other writers in Facebook groups. And ideally, your platform is the stuff you love to do. You're just doing it with a little bit more purpose and a little bit more focus to a slightly larger group of people.

Paul: And then another project that you are involved in is a series of retreats that you call Rebirth Your Book. And those started, I think, a couple of years ago from what I could tell. Can you tell me more about those?

Allison: Yes. So I started leading the Rebirth Your Book retreats largely because I was bitter and cynical, and I was tired of going to workshops where I read 25 or 50 pages of other people's work and marked it up laboriously with as many comments as I could think of. And I would get it back with, like, three scribbles and two re-punctuated sentences, and enjoyed reading, which is not helpful.

Paul: It's terrible.

Allison: And I decided I wanted to do a retreat, number one, that focused on your whole book, whether that is starting your whole book, or finishing your whole book, or re-envisioning your whole book, but focused on your whole book and where you don't read anybody else's work.

Nobody gives commentary on anybody else's work. So it doesn't matter if one writer is on book six and one writer is just now writing their first book. We do them in Tuscany in October, in Costa Rica in March. And there's a virtual one online in August. You can find out about all of them at

And I co-teach most of these with Dinty W. Moore, who's the Editor-in-Chief of Brevity, and a marvelous fiction and memoir writer. What I really love about these retreats is taking yourself out of the every day, and putting yourself in a new location. And I try really hard to pick places where there's just enough to do.

And if you're scheduling your own personal retreat, you know, this is something to keep in mind, the town we go to in Italy, it's called Certaldo. It's a little hill town. It's absolutely adorable. It's about 45 minutes outside Florence. You can walk around the entire town in about 22 minutes, and you've seen everything there is to see. You've seen Boccaccio's birthplace. You've seen the medieval tower, you've seen it all.

And so, we get to enjoy the beauty of being in Tuscany without thinking, "Oh, man, I wish I was out looking at museums. I wish I was out in an art gallery." And I really love that. You know, so in Costa Rica, we hold up in a villa that had a pool, and we hung out at the pool. And, you know, yeah, we made a trip to the animal sanctuary.

We made a trip to the beach, but mostly it was be in this beautiful place and be cradled by having an attentive teacher who is incredibly focused on you and your book, and other writers who are also focusing on book-length work. So I love doing them. They make me so happy.

Allison: They sound incredible. Where do people go to find you?

Allison: I would say the main places to find me, and fingers crossed, I will have my regular website done by the time this podcast goes to air. Because I will tell you people, I have the most ugly butt website you can possibly imagine. It's really old. It's really unfunctional, and fingers crossed, it's done and revisited by the time you hear this.

But the best places to find me are through, where you can take the typo challenge and see if you spot a new typo, surprise, there's no chapter eight. It goes from chapter seven to chapter nine. Nobody caught that. Or maybe there's no chapter nine. Nobody caught it.

Paul: It's like the floor is where you miss 13.

Allison: Exactly, exactly. Or you can find me at, and that has the breakdown of all of the events I do and where you can find me. Yeah, and find me on social media. I'm everywhere at Guerilla memoir, and that's, like, shape Guerilla [SP], and not the ape gorilla memoir.

Paul: Allison, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Allison: You are so welcome. Paul, thank you for making this beautiful place for writers and editors to talk about their work.


Host Outro: You've been listening to the book I had to write. I'm Paul Zakrzewski. My guest today was Allison K. Williams. If you enjoyed the show, then I hope you'll subscribe on Apple Podcasts. I'm always grateful for reviews and for sharing the show with friends. To get a transcript of this and every episode delivered to your inbox, sign up at

In addition to transcripts, I'll send you information about upcoming episodes plus special offers available only to email subscribers. If you're working on your own book you have to write, or you wanna get started, maybe I can help. Find out more about me and my book coaching at That's And thanks for listening.